A whitewater park planned for the Neuse River in Raleigh could become a reality, assuming a nonprofit can get environmental approvals and raise enough money to cover the $2.8 million price tag.
Last month the Raleigh City Council unanimously voted in favor of design plans outlining the park on the Neuse River, right below the Falls Lake Dam.
“No money will come from the government,” said Dick Bailey a member of the Raleigh Parks and Recreation Department. “The committee has offered to write grants, to find sources of outside funding that will pay for the construction documents, the permitting and the construction of the facility.”
By doing this, it will minimize the amount of money the city of Raleigh had to give the park. Larry Ausley, a member of the steering committee and a local Raleigh paddler, believes that played a part in acquiring council approval.
So far the Falls Whitewater Park steering committee has been given $300,000 from the city and Wake County, which paid the engineering firms to come up with a concept plan and a feasibility study.
The proposed course will start just below the Falls Lake Dam and travel 600 feet downriver.
“The length of the course was designed around the thought that we could have local and regional competitions,” Ausley said. “We could have slalom races and downriver races.”
The renovations to the river will create a wider variety of rapids, providing opportunities for less experienced paddlers to learn about the sport and how to do it safely. That’s something Risa Shimoda, the former executive director of American Whitewater and head of the Shimoda Group, believes will lead to more interest in the sport.
“Right now, if you have no interest in it or don’t think that it is for you because you don’t have someone to teach you — a brother, sister or friend that does river sports — it might seem out of touch,” Shimoda said. “But when parks are built and classes are offered and people drive by and see it, I think there will be a lot of interest in it.”
Getting the city council’s approval is just the first step in a series of hoops the steering committee will have to go through to get the Falls Whitewater Park operational; the next is the permitting process.
“The longest and most uncontrollable part of the process is permitting,” Shimoda said. “It just takes a while. It is a technical exercise, so they just have to go through the process.”
Permitting is estimated to take about a year. Then, assuming the committee has raised enough money, crews can finally put equipment in the river and construction on the park will begin.
With all of the red tape, Ausley estimates it will be at least three years before the park is operational.
“I would say from the point where we had money, you are probably looking at a year’s worth of permitting process and then maybe a year to 18 months for the construction process,” Ausley said. “But that is bare minimum. Everything would have to run perfect for that to happen, so easily three years or so.”